Nirupama Subramanian talks about how we can handle our day-to-day challenges better through STEP. STEP is based on many concepts and models and also on lived experiences that psychologists and experts have proposed.

Reena’s story

I am the Service Delivery Manager for a team in a leading ITES company. My customers are in the US. I have to take client calls and attend virtual meetings during late evenings and early mornings. I have a small baby at home, and I want to spend time with her. It is becoming very difficult to manage both. I feel I have no control over my life. There is too much work at home and office. It is not fair since my male colleagues don’t have this problem. I can’t ask for special favours just because I am a woman. I can’t tell my customers to reschedule calls. I can’t be a good mother if I don’t spend time with my baby now. I can’t change organisation policy either. I feel so guilty because I am not a being, a good manager or a good parent. I can’t figure out what to do!

Amina’s story

I am a Category Head in an FMCG company. I have an MBA from a good Business School, and I worked hard to get to this level. I am the only female Category Head in the company. I have a reputation for hard work, sincerity and intellectual capability. My six peers are all men. I think our boss has a better relationship with the others. They hang out together for smoke breaks, stay back for beer at the BYOB restaurant next door and talk about things I have no interest in – cricket, cars and gadgets. I went with them couple of times but I was bored and restless.  I would rather be at home and spend time with my kids. They are already teenagers and if I am not at home, I feel I am losing out on precious time with them. Even otherwise, I would rather watch TV or read a book! While there is nothing overtly discriminatory, I feel I am losing out on being a part of important decisions. I have no context to many conversations the others have. Now, they have stopped asking me to these informal outings. I overhead one of them say “Amina is too boring. She doesn’t drink or smoke, so what is the point in calling her.” I was very hurt. I like my job but am feeling angry and frustrated these days. I don’t want to make a big issue of this anyway nothing can be done!

Some Takeaways

  • If we choose to adopt a fresh perspective and take real ownership, challenges lead to better outcomes and better relationships. We have to take the first STEP.
  • Focus on your specific challenge.
  • Transforming the challenge into a desired outcome makes us feel that we have some control over it and opens up many more options.
  • Usually, we are not even aware of the mind-sets we have. These show up in our language, our emotions and actions. It is important to take a dispassionate look and see how our own mind-sets are creating our problems.
  • Once we have a new perspective, it means we need to step out of the comfort zone and do things we have not done before.

If you are a working woman, you may identify with these challenges. These are real situations I have heard from the women I coach and train. All leaders have challenges and dilemmas. Most of these have no connection to gender, so how do I motivate people, manage time, have a better work life balance, think strategically, etc.

However, some of the dilemmas women leaders face is different. The way they look at a situation is different. The stories they grew up with are different. Their mental models and priorities are different.

Often, I am asked— what should I do? It is easy to give advice but not easy for the receiver to follow that. In fact, many people stay in a frustrating, unhappy situation for years hoping that something will dramatically change and make their lives better. Or they quit.

Is there any way to manage these challenges in a better way?

Here is an approach that I use that has worked with many people, including myself. It is based on many concepts and models that psychologists and experts have proposed but also lived experiences. It is a STEP- a new way of dealing with the situation.

Separate the circumstance from the challenge

We tend to focus on the external factors or facts over which we have no control. This only makes us feel helpless or frustrated and we get into a spiral of blame and complain. We only think about what Stephen Covey called the Sphere of Concern which seems overwhelming instead of focusing on the sphere of influence.

Reena does have a small child. There are certain conditions of work that exist and are a part of the job. Amina does have six male peers who exclude her from informal sessions. This will not change in the short run.

Instead, focus on your specific challenge. What is your struggle?

Transform the challenge into an outcome

Stop thinking of the situation it as a challenge. Instead focus on the outcome you want. Write a sentence starting with “I want…” instead of My challenge is ….

For Reena, it could be: I want to be effective at work and present for my baby.

For Amina, it could be:  I want to be included and be an important part of the team.

Transforming the challenge into a desired outcome makes us feel that we have some control over it and opens up many more options.

Examine your mindsets and assumptions

We all have assumptions, biases and mind-sets which have become our way of being. These mindsets come from lived experiences, messages from our parents, our culture and context.

  • Being a mother is the most important thing in the world.
  • A woman has to compromise to be happy
  • Work outside home takes second place to work inside the home
  • Asking for help makes us look weak.

Usually, we are not even aware of the mind-sets we have. These show up in our language, our emotions and actions. It is important to take a dispassionate look and see how our own mind-sets are creating our problems. Our mind-sets and assumptions limit options and restrict creativity.

Usually, we are not even aware of the mind-sets we have. These show up in our language, our emotions and actions.

Reena’s mind-set could be: I can’t do anything about my circumstances. Discussing options means asking for favors.  I can’t say No.  Life is unfair.

Amina’s assumptions could be: My needs and feelings cannot be discussed at work. I will be seen as weak if I talk about my feelings. I am losing out in life. I have no other way of building bonds with the team apart from after-hours socialising.

If we can see that we ourselves are partly responsible for the situation, we are better placed to find a solution.

Practice a new action with a new mind-set

Just awareness is not enough. It needs to be translated into action. The new perspective of the situation is important. Remember the glass is half-full or half-empty situation. How we view the situation determines the energy and spirit behind the actions.

Once we have a new perspective, it means we need to step out of the comfort zone and do things we have not done before. It means learning a new skill, it means taking a risk, it means giving up something we are used to, it means confronting our fears. But if we really desire the outcome we want, it is important to do it.

Once we have a new perspective, it means we need to step out of the comfort zone and do things we have not done before.

Do it again. One half-hearted step may not give a sustainable solution. So we need to practice. Do, learn, get better, repeat.

Life Feels Struggle
Picture Credit: theodysseyonline.com

Reena can move from being a helpless victim to taking ownership. This means a mindset of “I can make a change.” Maybe she speaks to her supervisor or customers about having an easier schedule. Maybe she needs to delegate more or enhance her influencing skills. Maybe she can be fully present when she is at home with her child.

Amina may need to have an authentic conversation with her team members and tell them how she feels without fear of being seen as weak and needy. She could find other ways to strengthen bonds. She could develop a trusting relationship with another colleague who keeps her informed about what happens during the gatherings.

There are many options to situations. If we choose to adopt a fresh perspective and take real ownership, challenges lead to better outcomes and better relationships. We have to take the first STEP.

Nirupama Subramanian is an author, leadership development facilitator, certified coach and co-founder of GLOW-Growing Leadership of Women. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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